Gavin Turk, Cave, 1991 (installed at the RCA)
The oblique reference to cave painting in the title of that last point was entirely to allow me to segue somewhat untidily from wall drawings to Gavin Turk’s Cave, an English Heritage style blue plaque that formed his degree show when he finished at the Royal College of Art in 1991. The show essentially consisted of an empty studio with a sign declaring that ‘Gavin Turk, sculptor, worked here 1989–1991’.
For me, the appel here isn’t the empty room but the ideas implied by that sign. The sign gives the room a significance, just as the blue plaques on houses set them apart from their neighbours because of a famous former resident. In terms of Turk’s work, there’s a notion of artist as celebrity that recurs in later work, but it’s the sense of place and the idea that a place becomes significant when inhabited by someone deemed in some way important that resonates more, I think.
In a way, viewed from a distance of over two decades during which time, arguably, the cult of the artist has become ever more prevalent with several of Turk’s generation – the Young British Artists – becoming household names and achieving fame (and notoriety) far beyond the art world.
study for Cave, 1991
Turk didn’t actually get his Masters. Sir Jocelyn Stevens, then Rector of the RCA was due to become Chair of English Heritage the following year and was distinctly unamused and Turk’s MA was withheld on the basis that he hadn’t presented a sufficiently substantial body of work. Of course, though Turk minded at the time, not getting his degree brought attention that might otherwise have been slower to reach him. Effectively that empty room brought something of the celebrity that a blue plaque is used to commemorate.